Extending the Digital Twin for More Sustainable Power Generation

Anyone paying attention to power—and probably even those who aren’t—are well aware that the way electricity is generated and delivered is rapidly changing. While the traditional combined cycle power facilities on the generation side we have come to depend on will be with us for a long time, new sustainable sources of renewable and distributed energy such as wind, solar, battery and green hydrogen are changing the grid forever.

One key way the power industry is changing is with renewable and distributed energy assets coming together to create more hybridized grids. I recently spoke with Rick Kephart, vice president of technology for Emerson’s power and water solutions, about how these grids present new challenges for energy producers and a new technology that will be a game-changer for the way they operate.

Bringing all the pieces together

Rick shared that a smarter grid requires traditional producers transitioning toward more renewables on the generation side of the power network to work alongside distribution contributors such as individual consumers and virtual power plants that aggregate smaller distributed energy resources. Accomplishing this means managing communication and data flows to understand how everything works together. Increased data visibility and optimized communication management are essential, even in traditional unidirectional power flow, but the future is in multidirectional flow, which makes it even more critical. As Rick explained,

“That communication can be either to the grid operator or an energy management system, or it could be just the communication between the assets, such as between distributed energy resources or energy storage and a solar field or wind farm.”

Or, for some companies, it could be all of the above. So how are they managing this complex infrastructure? With a technology they’ve used to design, monitor, test and train power plant staff for a long time: simulation.

Extending simulation to embrace a green energy future

New smart grid extensions are evolving the OvationTm digital twin by providing simulation of critical components that address the changing power generation landscape. Ovation digital twin smart grid extensions can be used with grid-level simulation packages to enable simulation of the total power system from generation to distribution. New capabilities designed for modeling renewable and distributed power generation assets will help producers—from microgrids to small municipalities to large utilities—address the needs of a sustainable energy future. Rick shared how digital twin smart grid extensions help teams manage the interconnectedness of the many distributed generation systems necessary to maintain a sustainable, reliable grid. For example, the extended software can simulate the effects of local weather changes on renewable generation from solar and wind.

“It enables you to evaluate the total capacity of distributed generating assets and allows you to adjust the production outputs as needed to ensure reliable power delivery to the consumer. Also, it’s a test bed for critical tasks such as upgrading equipment and software.”

Ovation digital twin smart grid extensions can be used with grid-level simulation packages to enable simulation of the total power system from generation to distribution.

But unlike the digital twin of a single generation plant, such as a combined cycle facility, extended simulation covers more than just a single power plant or generating asset. Smart grid extensions provide the ability to create a digital replica of distributed renewable generation assets such as wind and solar. This digital replica includes the operation of each individual distributed asset, the communications between each of the assets as well as the electrical network and components such as substations, transformers and lines. This enables users to have a much better understanding of the varying operating conditions of the generation system.

“You can run various ‘what if’ scenarios in a safe environment to see how they affect the grid. Users gain visibility into how all the small elements interconnect and can better grasp the communication and data flows to understand how everything works together.”

And being able to see those impacts is about more than just how much the power generation and distribution system delivers on any given day. As the world grapples with severe weather events and massive seasonal fluctuations in power usage, an extended digital twin can help power producers maintain grid stability and reliability during challenging times. Rick explained,

“Users can simulate loads and weather effects to anticipate the impact of internal and external changes on these distributed generating assets. They can see how large or small variations in the operating environment will impact assets in any given area of the power network and can take action to prevent impacts on delivery. Extreme weather events are just different levels of those same variables.”

Further into the future, this simulation foundation can be expanded even more to help with predictive maintenance of grid elements by running faster than real-time with varying load profiles and events, such as the failure of an electrical component, to determine how the grid will react.

As the way we produce and deliver energy evolves, the grid will only get smarter. It stands to reason that the tools teams use to manage those grids will need to get smarter as well. Digital twin smart grid extensions will help teams further leverage the power of the Ovation digital twin foundation to improve the design, operation, collaboration, and maintenance of their assets even as the way those assets interoperate changes.

Learn more about Emerson’s Ovation digital twin capabilities for the power industry during Rick’s Ovation technology roadmap session at the 2022 Emerson Exchange (session ID RDM-2094) or by visiting Emerson’s power plant simulator page.



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